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a story by
Michael Fels
> bio

Redwood Radio

Jeannie Thimble was conceived in the deep shade of a native California Black Oak during the first, great, San Francisco Love-In. The hippie couple, who would, in nine months, be changing her diapers and making sure that she’d receive her immunizations, eventually matured into conservative pillars of Danville, a bedroom community in the hills east of Oakland. Jeannie grew up to believe in the magic of her parent's wacky, dope-fueled romance and tried to figure out why such luck had so far escaped her.

Once, not long after she quit her job as a loan officer with the Contra Costa County Employees’ Federal Credit Union and moved to the sleepy, north-coast town of Mendonoma to live with her brother, Jake and his wife, Bess, she almost believed that things had changed. She loved Jason; an Evergreen College, Liberal Arts grad turned rural welder. He was tall and strong and strikingly handsome. She liked to tell her friends that he reminded her of a white-tailed stag. He lived and worked in a converted, red school bus that squatted exhausted and tireless in a hot, weedy meadow on a ridge above town. Jeannie tried her best to entice him into a relationship, but nothing more than friendship came of it. Finally, she gave up, telling Bess that, “I guess the only torch Jason carries runs on butane.”

It took her a long time to recover from his rejection. Jason had been the first man she’d really loved and, in unguarded moments as her 30th birthday approached, the magnitude of her loss washed over her like a cold, salty wave.

But despite her sadness, Jeannie wasn’t lonely. She and Bess had been best friends in college. In fact, it was Jeannie who’d introduced Bess to Jake when the two girls were juniors at Cal State Hayward and Jake was a senior. Now, Jake and Bess enjoyed her company and appreciated the love and care she provided to their two young boys.

Monday through Friday, Jeannie left the house at seven in the morning for her job at the Giggling Acorn pre-school. Her shift was from eight to four. By five she’d be back at the house, fixing dinner for Jake and Bess and the boys. By seven, she was finished with evening chores. In the summer, while the light held, she would go for long walks along the public access beach. In the winter, she would either withdraw to her room to read or she’d join the family in the living room to watch TV that they pulled down from the satellite with their dish.

On weekends, she might visit one of the other teachers from the preschool or perhaps a friend from the community theater company that she’d joined and that revived itself every spring to stage a play on the sloping lawn of the Mendonoma Hotel during long summer evenings. This year, they were doing Wilder's, "The Skin of Our Teeth." She loved the play and its message of hope…that somehow, things would work out.

It became known as "the world's only radio station broadcasting from inside a living tree!" It was true. In the 1950's, Bud and Ora Pringle, the family on whose land the tree stood made a playhouse out of one of the few old-growth redwoods that had escaped the plunder of the coastal forests. The tree’d been hit by lightning some time in the ancient past and a large section near the base remained blackened by the strike. They’d consulted an arborist who advised them that, if done carefully, the tree could be hollowed-out starting with the point of impact. The tree survived the surgery and continued to grow.

In the 1980's, the Pringle’s moved to Coeur d’Alene and sold the big old house to Henry and Gail Henderson who ran a "mom and pop" bookkeeping firm that wanted a home-office combination. The Henderson’s in-turn rented space to KZBR, a National Public Radio affiliate, since they didn’t have kids and wouldn’t require the entire house. Their decision was a win for everybody since folks in the Mendonoma area could finally hope to have access to some of the same programs that people in the city enjoyed so much.

But, being a new station and still building a listener-subscriber-base, KZBR couldn't afford to pay syndication fees for anything but three essential NPR news shows; "All things Considered," "Morning Edition," and the "Talk of the Nation." Most of the broadcast day was filled with locally produced shows such as, "Word Up” with Clive and Dirk --- two local, white, high school students who played Gansta' Rap and affected hip-hop slang; "The Happy Herbivore," a cooking show with Leticia Stein; and live broadcasts of the Mendonoma town council, the Mendonoma High School PTA and the Mendonoma School Board. But even so, KZBR lacked for programs to fill out its twenty-four hour broadcast mandate.

Like most of the town, Jeannie Thimble was an avid listener to KZBR and when, one night, she heard Darrell Lardner, the young station manager, send out a plea to anyone wishing to try out as a volunteer program host, Jeannie was moved to audition.

She’d visited the station on a field trip with her pre-school students. She’d seen the electronics crammed into what had been a back bedroom of the Pringle house. She’d seen (and had been moved close to tears) at the sight of the sweet playhouse carved into the living core of the giant redwood. She let herself imagine how it might feel to spend a night tucked snugly into this mammoth wooden heart; the sensitive tip of the crown more than two-hundred feet above her, reacting to every breeze; its stately bulk tethered to the earth through an enormous system of shallow roots keeping it firmly in place, even during the strongest winds.

She had an idea for a late night interview show that focused on “new-age” sensibilities. The hook (if Darrell and the Henderson’s OK'd it) would be to broadcast live from the small room in the tree. She imagined that there was enough room for herself and a guest. She wasn't sure exactly how it would work, but she wanted to give it a shot. The next day after school, she approached Darrell at the station and told him her idea. She hadn't worked it all out, but she knew that there was something powerful and right about it.

To her amazement, Darrell liked the concept. He checked with Henry and Gail Henderson and they liked it, too. She could have two-nights a week to start: 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM. They would rig a remote pickup to the tree (less than twenty feet from the “station”) and call the show “Heart to Heart with Jeannie Thimble.” The program would be advertised as “Heart to Heart with Jeannie Thimble …brought to you with love from the heart of a two thousand year-old first-growth Redwood in Mendonoma, California.”

Jennie would have to arrange for her own guests and music. Larry Peoples, the engineer, would be on duty to assure the quality of the transmission and to get her on and off the air, but of necessity the show had to be simple and without technological flourishes.

One week before her maiden broadcast, the station ran a series of promotional spots that featured Jeannie inviting listeners to tune in for a unique radio experience. She chose the music of New Age keyboardist, Salome, to run behind the announcements.

In addition, Jeannie prepared a flyer on her computer and printed one hundred copies. She distributed the flyers to the parents of her day-care children and to the members of her drama group. She left some with the Henderson’s who said he’d leave them on the table next to the three straight-back chairs in the front room where their customers waited. Jeannie gave the remaining flyers to the manager of the Mendonoma Grocery. He divided them up between Lance, Michelle and Cricket, his three checkers, who agreed to stuff them into their shopper’s paper or plastic bags as they left the store.

She spent the week before her first broadcast choosing music, planning the welcome and sign-off and arranging for guests. She worked hard to shape what she thought of as the show's unique "sound." She wanted it to be soulful. The tree setting would help. She wanted it to be "open hearted"—a safe, secure place for listeners to connect in the darkest hours of the night.

This was the winter of '98—a so-called, "El Nino" year. This El Nino had been so hyped by the press that people had begun to doubt its existence. But in March the weather system that had been born the previous Christmas off the coast of Peru hit California full-force.

By the time Jeannie reached the studio and settled behind the bulbous, black microphone, the tree swayed ever so slightly in the blustering storm. The small electric heater at her feet warmed her and the tiny room became exactly the snug harbor that she’d imagined.

She put on her earphones. She and Larry Peoples had gone over the procedure several times. He would count down from five for her and when she heard, "go" she would begin her broadcast.

" Five, four, three, two, one, go."

" Welcome to ‘Heart to Heart with Jeannie Thimble.’ This program is brought to you with love from the heart of a two thousand year-old first-growth Redwood in Mendonoma, California. I am Jeannie Thimble and for the next two-hours you and I will share the magic of a live broadcast from deep inside this wonderful, Coast Redwood."

She explained to her listeners how the heart of the tree had been carved into a playroom for the Pringle girls and now, still healthy and growing, the tree was home to the tiny studio she was lucky enough to be able to use for her broadcasts.

" Tonight our program will be in two parts—first hour, I’ll play some of my favorite new-age sounds. Hope you’ll like them as much as I do. Then we’ll shift gears and have a "Heart to Heart" interview with local artist, Greg Quimbly. Greg is known throughout the west for his impassioned and sensitive jade carvings. Greg’ll tell us about the many spiritual properties of jade and how he learned to communicate so effectively with this amazing stone.

" Now sit back, take a deep breath, relax, and let's enjoy the mellow sounds of 'Silver Grass.'"

Halfway through the first hour, Jennie began to enjoy herself. About ten minutes before the start of the second hour, Greg Quimbly entered the tree. He shucked off his yellow raincoat and took the seat that Jeannie offered on the other side of the small table.

Although Jeannie had spoken to Greg Quimbly on the phone and had admired his work in local gift stores, she hadn't met him in person. She introduced herself and told him how much she respected the quality of his work. Greg smiled through his thick beard and told her that he was looking forward to the interview and that he really liked the vibes of the small, tree room.

" Pluto's Orbit" tinkled to a halt and through her earphones, Jennie heard Larry tell her that it was time to introduce Greg.

" You've been enjoying the ethereal sounds of 'Pluto's Orbit.' Their latest album, "Mystic Journey" is available on the Cosmic Label. It’s now my pleasure to welcome you to the second hour of 'Heart to Heart' and our interview with jade artist, Greg Quimbly. I've admired his work for several years. But if Greg is new to you, let me tell you a little about him. Greg lives in Horicon. That's where his studio is located and where he makes his home with his wife, April, and his daughter, Laredo. Greg has worked exclusively in jade since 1972. Today, Greg's work is known all over the west. His specialty is jewelry and small figures carved in classical and mythological shapes, many of which he’s borrowed from the folk tales of Native Americans and from the ancient cultures of China and Korea. I am thrilled to introduce as my first guest on "Heart to Heart," Greg Quimbly.

" Thanks, Jeannie. It's a real pleasure to be here with you."

" The pleasure is ours, Greg. Coming out in the middle of this stormy night is beyond the call."

" No problem. I'm always ready to talk about jade."

" Let's get right to it. Why don't you tell us how you got involved in working with this special stone."

" I'd be happy to, Jeannie. I first got interested in jade back in the early '70's. I'd seen the work of Chen Liu-Zheng from China at an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art and was so taken by it that it changed my life. Under his hands, the jade came to life. He created shapes that pulsed with meaning. I knew right then that I wanted to learn to do that."

" Well, you certainly have. Your work speaks volumes."

" Thanks, Jeannie. I've tried hard to honor the traditions of Chen Liu-Zheng and the lineage of great jade artists he represents."

" Greg, I know that you've brought some samples of your work. Would you be willing to describe one of your pieces for our audience?"

" Sure, Jeannie. Let me tell you about this one." Greg pulled an object from a hard-sided case and unwrapped it from a flannel cocoon. "This is what I call 'Phoenix Emerging.' It’s carved from a piece of Burmese green jade and depicts the mythical Phoenix arising from the base of the stone. The Phoenix has a long, delicate neck. I hope that you can see in her eyes that she’s valiantly struggling to free herself from the ashes that still cover most of her legs. The Phoenix is a very important archetype in my work."

" Yes, Greg, her struggle really comes through. It's very powerful and somehow honors the essence of the jade itself."

" You know jade has amazing powers to heal and teach and, Jeannie, every piece has it's own story to tell. My job is to help the jade tell it. That's what I try to do through my work."

" Well, I'm sure that you and I could talk all night, but I don't want to keep you all to myself. I know that there are listeners out there who can't wait to talk to you and learn more about jade and the secrets that it holds for us. My Engineer, Larry tells me that we already have our first caller holding on the line. Hello, caller? Welcome! You're 'Heart to Heart' with Jeannie Thimble and Greg Quimbly."

“ Yes. Hello? Am I on the air?”

“ Yes, caller. You are on the air and this is Jeannie Thimble. You are Heart to Heart with Greg Quimbly.”

“ OK. Well, it’s like this, ma’am. My name’s Randy. I’m a tribal elder up here at the ‘rez.’ Greg there knows damn well who I am, don’t you Greg.”

“ Hello, Randy.”

“ Listen to me, you pond-scum sucking invertebrate. You know damn well why I’m calling. Why don’t you tell the nice lady there just how you wormed your way into my confidence and then, despite your pledge of silence, went and used our sacred legends to inspire your jade work and make you one rich man. I hope you rot in hell.”

“ Hello, Randy? This is Jeannie Thimble. I’m sure there must be a simple misunderstanding here, something that can be cleared up if only we open our hearts to each other. How about it, Greg? Randy?”

“ Sorry, Ms. Thimble.” It was Randy. “You seem like a sweet lady, but I gotta tell you…the only thing I’ll ever open to that forked-tongued som'bitch is a lawsuit. In fact, I was with the tribe’s attorney all afternoon and guess what we talked about? Look out, Quimbly. We’re on the warpath. Big time!”

The phone went dead.

“ Well audience, I’m sorry for that. It certainly wasn’t what I expected from my first call. Let’s take a short break and listen to ‘Black Hole in My Heart’ by the up-and-coming group from Eureka, the Thomas Family.”

Jeannie excused herself and rushed over to the main office to use the bathroom. She splashed water on her face to regain her composure. When she returned to the tiny studio, she was ready to go again.

“ That was the Thomas Family with a cut from their first CD entitled, ‘Black Hole in My Heart.’ The CD is called, ‘Space Grooves’ and is available on the Three Springs label. Greg, are you ready to take another call?”

“ Sure am, Jeannie. I’m not about to let old Randy there put a damper on my evening.”

“ So glad to hear it, Greg. We’ll, Engineer Larry tells me we’re ready to go. Caller? You’re on the air with Jeannie Thimble and Greg Quimbly and we are ‘Heart to Heart.’”

" Hey, Jeannie? This is Chuck. Chuck, over in Covelo? Cool show, Jeannie."

" Thank you, Chuck. Do you have a comment or question for Greg Quimbly?

" Yeah, I sure do. Hey, Greg. How's it hangin' buddy?"

" Good Chuck."

" Cool. Hey man, here's the deal. I've been trying to polish me up some local agate that me and my partner dug out of the hills over north of Wyatt. Know where I mean?"

" I think so."

" OK. Cool. Man, I gotta tell you that your work’s the bomb. I've seen your stuff at the Sonoma County Fair and it's totally awesome."

" Thanks, Chuck. I'm pleased that you like it."

" Chuck, this is Jeannie Thimble. Do you have a question for our guest?"

" Oh, yeah. Sure. Like I told you, man, I been trying to polish this agate? And I got me a used Briggs Polisher 310-A? But I've been having all kinds of trouble with it. I can't seem to get enough RPMs out of the sucker to really tackle the job. Waddayathink?"

" Hmmm. You know, Chuck, the Briggs 310-A is a classic stone polisher. I have two of ‘em myself and use ‘em regularly. Not only on jade but on other stones."

" So wadaryasayin’, man? You sayin’ it's me? Som’um about the way I'm usin’ it?"

" Well, Chuck, I'd like to ask you try one little trick. Try working with the 310-A on a 45-degree angle. You'll get much better results than when you keep it flat on the table."

" Chuck? Greg? This is Jeannie Thimble. Hee Hee. I hate to break in, but I think our listeners are anxious to learn about the spiritual qualities of jade. Don't forget, our show is called 'Heart to Heart.' Maybe we can save this technical stuff for another time."

" Sure Jeannie. But I'd like to try and help Chuck here out if I can. Chuck, when you use the 310-A, are you really careful to dampen the surface with a very thin coat of 10-40 oil?"

" Pretty careful Greg. You got any special way to get it spread evenly?"

" Actually, I do, Chuck. I use a Tupperware turkey baster, model TTB-26, and drip the oil down the plate of the 310-A while it's rotating at its lowest speed."

" Hey, guy. I'll give ‘er a shot. You think that and the angle'll make the difference?"

" Sure should, Chuck. Try it and let me know."

" Right, buddy. Hey, I got another one for you."

" Shoot"

" Chuck…Greg…This is Jeannie Thimble…"

" Greg, I got me a Laserly 38X stone carving set for Christmas? The old lady gifted me with it."

" Gee, Chuck, I wish you hadn't told me that."

" Yeah, I know. But I've gotta make the best of it."

" Chuck, the best thing for you to do in a case like this is to arrange for the darn thing to be stolen and never recovered. All you're gonna get out of the Laserly 38X is a pile of ruined gemstones and a broken heart.”

" You da man! Much Grass, Amigo!"

“ Backatcha, dude. Jeannie? Shall we take another call?"

" Yes, Greg, let's. Engineer, Larry? Are we ready. He says we are. So, hello, caller? This is Jeannie Thimble and we are Heart to Heart with Greg Quimbly, noted jade artist."

" Uh, is this, uh, Jeannie Tremble?"

" This is Jeannie Thimble and you are on the air."

" Uh, Jeannie?"

" Please go ahead caller. Do you have a question for our guest, Greg Quimbly?"

" OK. So. Jeannie? I’m Mona? I live in Moonstone Bay? Me and Bob, we manage the Beachcombers Trailer Park in Moonstone Bay? You can see it if you look real hard off to the left just as you make that hairpin north of the General Store? It's kinda hidden in the trees…"

" Mona? Do you have a question about the spiritual properties of jade that you would like to put to our distinguished guest, Greg Quimbly?"

" Umm Jeannie? Me and Bob? We been saving the shells that them abalone divers bring up? We been saving 'em since we first started managing the park back in '78? So believe you me, we got ourselves beau-coup shells. We've lined all the driveways with ‘em and last year we used ‘em to completely cover our trailer home? I tell you, Jeannie, when that sunset hits them shells on the doublewide? You'd think that Christ the almighty was on his way back to earth."

" Mona, I'm sure it’s lovely, but do you a have question for our guest?"

" OK. Yeah. Right. Umm here's the question. Sometimes? Me and Bob? We see, like, Disney characters in the ab shells? Like your Mickey Mouse or your Donald Duck? Over the years we seen every last one of your Seven Dwarves!"

" And the question, Mona?"

" Oh. Right…So Greg? When we see one of them cute Disney characters in the shell, can you tell us how the heck we can like cut it out and lacquer it up real good and mount it on a piece of plywood? We think the Disney folks would be real taken by ‘em."

" Mona, this is Greg Quimbly. What a wonderful, original idea. You really let the shells speak to you, don't you, Mona?"

" Oh yes sir. They surely do. Me and Bob, we love them shells."

" Mona? Greg? This is Jeannie Thimble. I wonder if we shouldn’t try for a caller who wants to talk about the subject at hand? I don't mean to be abrupt, Mona but…"

" Actually, Jeannie, I'd sure like to take a whack at this if I might. Mona? Your call reminds me of something the world-famous sculptor, Michelangelo once said. The way to make a great statue is to get a fine block of marble, study it until you see the figure hiding inside, cut away everything that isn't part of that figure, and what's left is the sculpture. Now it's gonna be a little different with an abalone shell, but here's what you should do. Get a thin, black making pen and use it to carefully trace the outline of the character you see. Then, fit a number 003 blade to your jig saw and working very slowly and carefully, start cutting around the black line."

" Greg, we ain't got no jig saw. How about a hacksaw? We got one of them."

" Mona, if you are very, very careful, it just might work. But go real slow or your Mickey just might end the day as a Minnie, if you get my drift. Now if you have to use a hacksaw, you'll want to get a Skipper-Jack 583 rat-tail file for the finish work around the corners."

" Hey, Greg. Can you hold on a minute? I gotta write all that down. YO, BOB. BRING ME A PENCIL. I'M ON THE GOD-DAMM RADIO."

" Greg, Mona, Engineer Larry? Let me take this opportunity to suggest that we move on to another caller. The hour is just racing by and we have yet to have our first "heart to heart" about setting free the magic of the jade."
Mona returned to the phone.

“ It’s OK, now. I’ve got me a pencil. Tell me the name of that tool you said?”

“ It’s a Skipper-Jack 583 rat-tail file.”

“ Can you spell that out for me?”

“ S-K-I-P-P-E-R-J-A-C-K-5-8-3-R-A-T-T-A-I-L-F-I-L-E.”

“ S-K-I-P-P-E-R-what’s the rest?”

“ J-A-C-K-5-8-3-R-A-T-T-A-I-L-F-I-L-E.”

“ Ok. I got the ‘J-A-C-K’ but what was that number again?”
Jeannie cut in, Her voice rising. “It’s a 583. 5-8-3. And it’s an R-A-T-T-A-I-L-F-I-L-E. Thanks for your call, Mona. Good night. Engineer Larry, next call, please! “Greg, we only have a few minutes left. Let’s hope that our last caller makes good use of your special talents.”

“ Let’s go for it, Jeannie.”

Engineer Larry signaled to Jeannie that the last caller was now on the line. “Hello, caller. You are on the air with Jeannie Thimble and Greg Quimbly. We are ‘Heart to Heart.’”

“ Ummm. I’d like to like, talk to Greg?”

“ Caller, you are on the air with Greg Quimbly. Greg can hear you. Go ahead. Do you have a question?”

“ Yeah, but it’s like kinda private? So, umm, do you think like…you know…you don’t have to, like, listen?”

“ Hello, caller?” This is Greg. Are you saying that you don’t want Jeannie to listen to your question?”

“ Yeah, cuz it’s like, really personal. It’s just sort of like, between dudes.”

“ Caller, this is Jeannie Thimble. Why don’t you just tell us your first name?”

“ Whoa, man. No way. Then you’ll know who I am. But. OK. You can call me like Seth. But like that’s not my real name.”

“ OK, Seth. This is Jeannie. You know, Seth, this is a public radio show. Many other people are out there listening to you as we speak…not just me. Even if I don’t listen to your question, everyone else will hear it. You sound young, Seth…seventeen? Eighteen? This is a chance for you to open your heart to us. I’m sure that anything a young man like you has to say to our guest will be accepted without judgment.”

“ Jeez, I hope so, cuz I really need to talk to Greg about my, like problem.”

“ Just go ahead, son. This is Greg Quimbly. What’s on your mind?”

“ Well…OK…Jeez, I’m not sure how to say it.”

“ Just tell us, son. Nobody’s gonna be bothered by what you say.”

“ Oh, man. Well, here goes. OK. See, every time I use my Geolimpia One Thousand to buff my stones, I get kinda…stimulated, if you know what I mean. Sometimes, it’s like the damn thing’s gonna punch a hole right through my Levi’s. I mean like I’m kinda proud of it and all that, but I can’t help like wonder if I’m like some kind of freak or something?”

“ Hey, son. So that’s what this is all about. Look, ‘Seth’. Working with polished stones is a very sensual, dare I say, erotic activity. The way they look? How they feel? I’d say that most guys your age get turned on working with rocks.”

“ Wow, Greg, so you mean I’m not the only one who, like, gets all aroused around the stones?”

“ By no means, my young friend. By no means.”

“ Seth? Greg? This is Jeannie Thimble. I’m a little lost here with all this male bonding. Let’s ask Engineer Larry to provide a brief musical break and maybe this conversation can be continued off the air.”

“ Jeannie, can we hold on here just one second? I believe that if one person asks a question, there are probably ten more who want to know but who are too shy to ask. Let me give Seth a specific technique that I know really works, from first-hand experience.”

“ Must you, Greg?”

“ Seth, one way to beat this is to always wear thin cotton gloves when working stones. They’ll reduce the tactile sensations and help keep things in check. But hey, the main thing, ‘Seth,’ is to just stop worrying about it. Sure, you’re a horny young guy…but you’re a perfectly normal horny young guy!”

“Well, engineer Larry tells me we’ve run completely out of time.” Jeannie sounded relieved. “That brings us to the end of our first edition of Heart to Heart. I’d like to thank all our callers and especially our special guest, Greg Quimbly. On our next show, we will all have the pleasure to talk with the new-age zither sensation, Margo Smilla.”

And the hour ended. Jeannie took off her earphones and apologized to Greg. She couldn't account for the oddness of the calls, but she appreciated his patience and tact. She put on her yellow rain slicker, opened the door to the tree and she and Greg stepped out into the fresh night. The rain had stopped. She went into the main studio and thanked Larry Peoples. Greg walked her to her car and she drove straight to her brother's house.

When she opened the front door at Jake and Bess’s, the lights blazed on: "Happy Birthday!!" It was, but she’d forgotten in the excitement of planning for the show. She took in the scene. Bess, Jake, her friends from the little theater and the day care center…they were all there at this crazy hour. Even Jason. Over the fireplace, a large, hand-lettered sign read:

Happy 30th, Jeannie! We All Love You!
Your family, friends, and especially your “callers”
Randy, Chuck, Mona, and Seth

It’d been Bess's idea. She’d arranged with Darrell to let members of the little theater company call in. As a friend of Greg Quimbly's, she'd gotten him to play along and agree to come back another time for a “real” interview. Larry Peoples had alerted the local callers to the joke and asked them to call next time.

Jeannie exploded with laughter. It started low in her belly and come pouring joyously out of her mouth. For the first time in a long while, she thought that maybe her luck wasn’t so bad after all.


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